This post is part of my challenge to bake my way through all the challenges of the Great British Bake Off. The challenge below is the showstopper challenge for week six (pudding week) of series three: a large strudel.
Although this blog is packed with sweet recipes, in my day-to-day life I don’t eat a crazy amount of sugary food, in the name of my waistline and my teeth and my pancreas. Sometimes I get a bit wearied from the steady procession of sweet things made in the name of this (actually very fun) challenge over the years: when there’s a savoury option in sight, I will often take it. So it was exciting to find out that there was more to strudel than the apple or cherry versions found in my local Lidl at Christmas (though there’s nothing wrong with those). So although this was nominally made for ‘pudding week’, this cabbage strudel (don’t click away, it’s delicious!) is actually a hearty main course. The tender cabbage is studded with salty shreds of bacon, and both are wrapped in flaky, buttery, crisp strudel pastry, which retains its toothsome, very slightly chewily crispness for several days without descent into sogginess.
The recipe for krautstrudel comes from Luisa Weiss’ encyclopedic, beautiful labour of love Classic German Baking. It’s a gorgeous and fascinating book – meticulous as you’d want a baking book to be, and both informative in a more scholarly way as well as personal. Weiss is an enthusiastic ambassador for German cuisine, particularly the country’s baking heritage. (Weiss herself is, as she notes, half Italian, half American, although she lived in Germany as a child and now again as an adult; I recognise some of the feeling of her delight with her adopted country’s cuisine and culture, as a Belgian living in Britain. The love of a country which both is and isn’t your own is, for me anyway, as strange – and sometimes melancholy – as it is lovely).
I did adapt the recipe slightly: I didn’t have caraway seeds in the house when I was making this, and used a good scraping of nutmeg instead. While the bright aniseed flavour of caraway would be utterly delicious, the warming muskiness of nutmeg works very well too. I think it’s a little more wintery than caraway. While a cabbage strudel does sound like winter food – brassicas are very much considered winter vegetables in Britain – Weiss does write that this kind of thing is eaten in Germany in the summer months when the first fresh, tender new cabbages start to emerge from the field. And it makes sense: a European (and British) summer is a fragile, changeable thing, one day hot and muggy, the next cool and blowsy with rain and high winds and shivering under thin blankets at night.
My top tip when making strudel dough, if making it for the first time, is not to worry too much about any holes or tearing as you go, and definitely do not do what I did and try and scrunch your stretched-out dough back together to re-stretch. The stretching process makes the dough a little more brittle and dry and it will break apart rather than coming back together into a silky dough. I had to make the dough again from scratch (not actually that hard) – it certainly isn’t reusable once stretched. Even if it tears or holes form, once you roll the strudel up, any patchiness is adequately compensated for by the layers you’re forming. But I do highly recommend making the dough yourself rather than using filo, which many recipes recommend as a substitute. Filo pastry is brittle and shatters with every mouthful, and a strong buttery flavour from being (typically) soaked in the fat before baking; strudel dough is also crisp, buttery and rich, but it has a bit of tenderness and is more pliant and chewy than filo.
Recipe below the jump, as ever.
Krautstrudel (cabbage strudel)
Minor adaptation of ingredients and method, from Classic German Baking
For the strudel dough
- 150g plain flour, plus more for dusting
- Pinch salt
- 3 TBS sunflower oil
- 80ml cold water, plus more if needed
- Combine the flour and salt in a small bowl. Pour the oil into the flour mixture, then add the water slowly, stirring with your fingers. The mixture will be quite wet.
- Continue stirring the mixture together with your fingers, and as soon as the dough comes together, pour it out onto a lightly-floured work surface.
- Knead the dough for ten minutes, after which it should be soft, supple, and silky to the touch. Form the dough into a ball and place it on a work surface or baking tray to set aside. Invert the bowl over the dough (more environmentally friendly than plastic wrap!) and let the dough rest for 30 minutes. In the meantime, make the filling!
For the filling
- 2 TBS olive oil
- 150g bacon, diced, or lardons
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1 small Savoy cabbage, cored and shredded (you can shred this using a mandolin if you don’t want to do it by hand. I also like to remove the thicker spines of the outer leaves before shredding)
- 1/4 tsp salt
- Whole nutmeg
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the bacon or lardons, then add the onion, Fry for a few minutes, until the onion is translucent.
- Add the shredded cabbage and stir well to distribute the onion and bacon pieces evenly through the cabbage. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Towards the end of the cooking time, add the salt and pepper, and grate in a good grating of the whole nutmeg. I calculated that I grated in about 1/4 tsp using a very fine Microplane. Remove the mixture from the heat and set aside.
- Strudel dough (above)
- Filling (above)
- A bit of plain flour, for sprinkling
- 50g unsalted butter, melted
- Preheat the oven to 200C and line a large baking tray with baking paper.
- On your work surface (if large enough) or a kitchen or dining table, spread out a large clean cotton or linen kitchen towel or tablecloth measuring at least 60x80cm. (This is the theory. In practice I had to tessellate about six kitchen towels of varying textures and fibres to form something this large. If you have a tablecloth, I would recommend using that). The long dimension (80cm) of the towel(s) should be horizontal.
- Sprinkle the flour lightly over the surface of the towel(s). Place the strudel dough in the middle of the towel(s) and, using a rolling pin, roll it out several times in both directions until it measures about 25x33cm (don’t worry too much about getting this exact, just approximately of this size is good enough).
- Form your hands into loose fists and put them under the rolled-out dough. Gently start stretching out the dough using the backs of your hands, and alternate this with pulling on the dough gently with your fingers to continue stretching the dough. You’re trying to get a balance between stretching the dough fairly assertively and not tearing it; it takes a bit of time to get the balance right. If it tears, trying patching it up by pressing the dough together around the rip. If this doesn’t work, just breathe out and practice letting go. It will come out all right in the end.
- Continue stretching out the dough evenly until it is 40x60cm and is thin enough to see the pattern of the tea towel(s) through it – remember to walking around and ensure you are stretching the dough evenly as you go, especially if you’re doing this on a table. Pull the edges of the dough as thin as you can and make sure it is evenly thin all over before proceeding – stretch out any slightly thicker bits now.
- Brush the dough all over with some of the melted butter. Scrape the cabbage mixture over a quarter of the dough at the bottom (on the long/horizontal end), leaving a 3cm border at the bottom and side edges.
- Gently fold the side of the dough over the filling, stretching slightly if necessary, then pull the bottom edge of the dough over the filling.
- Working carefully, use the towel(s) to roll the strudel tightly over the remaining dough. This is quite fun – although you do want to do this neatly and carefully to ensure the wrapping is tight and even, you can use the momentum of rolling off the towels a bit, which is helpful and makes it a lot less difficult than it may sound.
- When the strudel has been rolled up, pull the end of the dough over, stretching it thinner as you go, and press it against the strudel gently to seal. Using your towel as a sling, gently roll the strudel onto the baking sheet, seam-side down. My strudel was too large to fit onto my baking sheet horizontally, so as Weiss suggests I shaped it into a crescent to fit it on the sheet. Brush the formed strudel generously with more (though not all – see below!) of the melted butter.
- Bake the strudel for 15 minutes; remove from the oven and brush generously with more of the melted butter (again, not all). Bake for another 15 minutes; remove from the oven and brush with the remaining butter. Bake for an additional 10 minutes. The strudel should be flaky and browned and crisp to the touch.
- Remove from the oven and let cool for 5-10 minutes before slicing into 5cm pieces to serve.